By David F. Effiong
“From today henceforth, I cease to be a Catholic Priest in my spirit and in my soul. I forgive those who will criticize me, I live for God. I seek freedom for my soul. As I leave, I leave smiling, I am so happy that I am free.”
Those were the very words of Revd Fr. Patrick Henry Edet, Founder of the Grace Family Global Outreach, of the diocese of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on “2nd August, 2017 on Planet Radio, 101.1 F.m . The resignation was confirmed by Aniekeme Finbarr, Special Assistant on Media to Akwa Ibom State governor” (m.guardian.ng/news/edet-quits-catholic-priesthood). According to Sitippe.com/2017/08/02/patrick-edet-resigns, reasons for his resignation lay in the assumption that he does not want to submit to any human authority but to God. The website also said that “the cabals which consist of mainly old priests have been agitating against Revd Edet since Bishop Ekuwem’s time. An agitation which made the Bishop send him to Police Chaplaincy (Abuja) in 2011 and 2012. On return, the new Bishop Ayah gave Revd Fr.Edet much hope. Other reasons for his resignation include the assumption that he feared that the new Bishop could withdraw his faculty and send him to residence.”
Another Priest, Revd Fr. Steve Udo of Ikot Ekpene Diocese wrote a sequel to the annoucement made by Revd Fr.Patrick. This entire article therefore is, but an analysis of Fr.Steve’s reply as well as the replies and concerns of many Catholic faithfuls out there, who believe rather absurdly that the resignation of any of her Pastors or leaders is well deserved. The concerns of Fr Steve Udo are herein numbered throughout this writ.
- 1) The evangelical counsels of celibacy, poverty and obedience is the primary and paramount guide for the life of a priest. As soon as a priest compromises these counsels, he is most likely on his way out.
***In 2012, Kevin Knight (Catholic Encyclopedia, newadvent.org/cathen 03.08.2017), talking about evangelical counsels said, “the difference between a precept and a counsel lies in this, that the precept is a matter of necessity while the counsel is left to the free choice of the person to whom it is proposed. It is fitting therefore, that the New Law, which is a law of liberty, should contain counsels of this kind, which would have been out of place in the Old Law, which was a law of servitude.”
In speaking for the Church Fr Steve Udo adopts the teaching of the Code of Canon Law in can.573 that” Catholics that have made a public profession to order their life by the evangelical counsels, and confirmed this by a public religious vow before their competent church authority (the act of religious commitment called “profession” ), are recognised as members of the consecrated life.” Yet, I suppose it is the case that Fr Patrick Edet understood the Catholic Encyclopedia article which ends with the following summary:
“ To sum up: it is possible to be rich, and married, and held in honour by all men, and yet keep the Commandments and to enter heaven” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_counsels).
I do also suppose that Fr Patrick Edet understood that, “the Catholic Church interprets this (the evangelical counsels) to mean that they are not binding upon all and hence not necessary conditions to attain eternal life ( heaven ). Rather they are “acts of supererogation” that exceed the minimum stipulated in the Commandments in the Bible” (In The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller ed., notes for Mark 10:17–22, page 36).
While many like Fr. Steve seems to be more concerned about a priest compromising the evangelical counsels, others like Frank Bruni are much more concerned about “an institution that has done a disservice to them and to the parishioners in whose interests they should toil…specifically to its modern incarnation and current leaders, who have tucked priests into a cosseted caste above the flock, wrapped them in mysticism and prioritized their protection and reputations over the needs and sometimes even the anguish of the people in the pews”( Frank Bruni, January 29, 2013, Catholicism’s Curse’).
I would now draw our attention to the fact that, “the Vatican, a gilded enclave so far removed and so frequently out of step with the rest of the world, clamps down on Catholics who challenge its rituals and rules. Much of what these dissenters raise questions about — the all-male priesthood, for example, or the commitment to celibacy that priests are required to make — aren’t indisputable edicts from God. They’re inventions of the mortals who took charge of the faith” (https://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/bruni-catholicisms-curse.html).
On this, one would be able to ask the question, “after more than 10 years as a Priest, did Fr Patrick have any confrontations with his local Church?” “Did these confrontations or not inform his choice of resignation?” “Is compromising the evangelical counsels, ever been a prerequisite to resignation in a Church coated with a dubious history of some Popes, Priests and Cardinals like Roger M. Mahoney?”
- 2) Fr Patrick’s Grace Family Ministry had derailed long ago and his then Bishop, now Archbishop of Calabar openly warned, rather, prophesied that he was on his way out.
*** In October 2005, Fr Patrick had his first experience of preaching on radio and between January and February 2006, a weekly radio outreach program “Season Of Grace,” was born. I too, like many families, enjoyed listening to this program which was under the sponsorship of Grace Family Media Outreach. According to ibomreporters.com Fr. Patrick Edet was recorded to have stated that he’s achieved inner peace after making the move as he was somewhat bound by certain laws in the Church to the detriment of his Ministry. Majority of the Ministry members who have been following the development are happy he made the move by quiting the Priesthood (cf. Sitippe.com/2017/08/02/patrick-edet-resigns).
Once again, Fr. Steve Udo lends his voice, alongside the majority of men on collar like him who prefer to trample the dignity of a ‘strayed’ sheep than address the mischievousness or carelessness of the ‘enlightened’ shepherds. If not so, why emphasize about the Grace Family Ministry if there were no underlying plots, prospects or expectations to see it fall?
- 3) Listening to his speech he felt he was in bondage perhaps from his seminary days. He is now free and under no authority.
***Fr. Steve Udo seems to have displaced or misplace his understanding of the concept of Human freedom. When someone says he is free from something, it doesn’t always ipso facto mean he was in chains or in bondage in a distant past.He should have known that, “the man who chooses is always alienated man, man subject to many necessities. Hence, his choice is not an exercise of freedom. For it is not he who chooses. The choice is made by his cultural setting, his upbringing, his environment, and the various psychological manipulations of which he is subject.” Hence, “publicity, propaganda, psycho-technics, and human relations determine our choices with increasing rigor” (Jacques Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom. 1976: 113).
In stating therefore that he is free, Fr. Patrick Edet like the rest of his kind, acknowledges the fact that staying indifferent and pretending that all was okay, when in fact it wasn’t, was indeed the real bondage. Fr. Patrick also lits the touch, showing many like him who in their Charisma both as Seminarians and Priests, the power of choice. He also acknowledges that freedom is not limited to a freedom to, but it also entails a freedom from.
- 4) The History of the Nigerian Church is replete with “Charismatic” priests who have experienced one crisis or another. We are spared of such experiences in our diocese.
***Former priest, Dan Murtah (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/13/a-moment-that-changed-me-leaving-catholic-priest) had written aptly thus: “When I was ordained I made a promise to the bishop to be celibate for the rest of my life. It was easy to do at the time. I had trained for six years in an all-male college away from home – and as a heterosexual man, very little temptation came my way. I was so confident about being celibate that I happily discussed it on TV and radio. The prospect of never having children was daunting, but I was happy to make that sacrifice to become a priest.” Refreshingly, Dan Murtah had written to Pope Francis about his decision to leave the Priesthood. Unfortunately, Dan narrated that, “Pope Francis had ignored my request for guidance: the letter I got back from a Vatican secretary told me to speak to my bishop. So I did. And after many meetings, I finally told him I was choosing love over the church. He was adamant that it wouldn’t last and I would come crawling back within a year.
I was under a lot of pressure from the church to abandon her. I was told I was “destined for great things” if I stayed – because Jesus did say success is everything (he didn’t actually). I was told that ordinary life was boring – that’s right, you ordinary lay people. I was also told that I could not break my vow of celibacy – but it turns out that it was as easy as making it. Breaking the vow didn’t upset me or make me fearful, and ultimately it made me happy. Of course it did.”
Which history was Fr Steve making reference to actually? The History of the victors or the history of folks who are told that life is worthless outside the pulpit?
In an article titled, “Why Priests Leave” (published by www.leavingthepriesthood.com 03/08/2017), the author notes that, ” although no longer in sanctioned priestly ministry, many priests who leave are still involved in ministerial activity, whether in Catholicism, another church or elsewhere. The depth of dedication and commitment to social justice and other charitable work continues, but in different ways. For most, there is sadness in leaving because of the joy and fulfillment they found in priestly ministry. What compelled most of them to leave was not ministry, but the inability and lack of freedom to live their personal lives in a manner in which they felt called by God.”
Fr. Steve Udo and many of his kind had ipso facto failed to realize the uniqueness and giftedness of individuals in the Catholic Church. He had failed to recognise the simple syllogism that Fr. Patrick’s speech like that of Dan Murtah (who never claimed to be charismatic either), brought to bear the continuity of service under God BUT outside the Ministerial priesthood. It was therefore a dubious un-truth to assert that the diocese of Ikot Ekpene is spared from a “crisis,” which logically involves human beings.
- 5) We pray not only for Fr Patrick but all the Priests who are heavily challenged in their vocation as to abandon their priestly mission…for the grace to live the evangelical counsels however challenging and tempting situations present themselves.
The Catholic Church throughout the world until the end of the second Vatican Council had held firmly that salvation cannot be found out side her folds. In her post synodal exhortations she asserts rather refreshingly of the hopes of the Father in uniting all into her fold. What she rarely preaches however is the fact that she is also a material church. A church whose Seat in Rome was built from the sales of indulgences and the extortions from the poor (cf. https://amazingbibletimeline.com/blog/sale-of-indulgences-became-a-church-doctrine/;https://www.britannica.com/topic/indulgence). Fr. Steve Udo and the rest of his kind also fail to record the testimonies of former priests like Henry Gregory Adams, Joseph Tremblay, Bartholomew F. Brewer, Huge Farrell, Alexander Carson, etc (https://carm.org/testimonies-ex-roman-catholic-priests), who still live and strive in a world of opportunities and blessings.